Category Archives: Parenting

Sacrificing your kids on the altar of missions?

origin_6989065271What’s the best thing about having kids?

No, not the cute antics or the learning to speak or walk or the hugs or total undying obedience to your every whim (ok I made that part up)…

Body shields!

Kids make the most incredible body shields.

When you don’t want to seriously consider or God forbid, actually do something that makes you feel scared or uncomfortable just hide behind your kids!

Imagine this highly improbable, never happened to me before situation… You are enjoying a nice robust discussion over a drink of your choice with a sincere and thoughtful Christian friend. The discussion turns to the issue of say… I don’t know… public schooling, urban mission, downward mobility… Good, healthy discussion ensues.  But then the debate starts to spiral dangerously out of control… out of the theology books…off the blogs…into our city…into our lives… But don’t fear good citizens our intrepid Christian has packed with him his trusty “Get out of Jail Free” card. With a merry glint in his dilated pupil he pulls out of his back pocket the trump card, the discussion-ender, the obedience crusher and with great relief places on the grand table of ideas “Yes I see the importance of these things but really I am not about to sacrifice my kids on the altar of missions!”

*crickets*

*awkward*

End of discussion

I mean who can possibly be in favour of child sacrifice right?

If the alternative is say dead kids or public schools then lets rather keep our kids alive right?

But honestly what does this quasi-spiritual, pious sounding phrase actually mean? Oh I know we have all met the kind of pastors who are so busy running around with their underpants over their trousers trying to save the world as some kind of subordinate Holy Spirit that they give off the impression that kicking a football with their kids is somehow beneath their high spiritual calling.

So perhaps if at this point we can all just start off by agreeing that kids are important. And looking after your kids in a healthy environment is important too… right… yes… we all heard that. I am firmly in favour of loving and protecting your family! I love my family and am truly humbled and shocked that God would entrust such an incredible responsibility to a knucklehead like me. I get it… I’m terrified I’m going to get it horribly wrong and screw them all up… badly…

But where does this fear come from? For that is surely what underlies this non-offspring sacrificing purported spirituality? Fear of obedience. Fear of public schools. Fear of messing up our kids. Fear of our kids getting hurt. Fear that we won’t be able to protect them. Or give them all the stuff we never had. Fear that they won’t follow Christ. Fear that they will get confused. Fear that we may have to sacrifice our own comfort or respectability. Fear of… trusting God with our lives, our family, our future…

I am by no means suggesting that all of the issues raised above are not real, complicated and nuanced. Nor am I suggesting that there cannot be legitimate reasons to answer questions of schooling, housing or area to live in either way. But please let’s stop hiding behind our kids as some kind of get out of conviction free card.

It is arrogance to think that you can protect our kids through home schooling. It is foolishness to think that you cannot equally sacrifice your kids on the altar of suburbia or comfort or status or achievement.

We, as a family, have made our choices about where live and where to school our kids. We want to be self-aware when it comes to the choices we have made. I want to deal with my idols and my fears when making decisions for my kids. It is difficult some days to send my kids to public schools in our area. I envy my friends whose choices have allowed them to send their kinds to private Christian schools. But I am not sacrificing my kids. We are intentionally choosing as a family to engage on mission in this community and that means going to the schools the kids in our area go to.

When we decided to follow Jesus we did decide to “sacrifice our lives” on the altar of mission. Our lives are now caught up in God’s greater, bigger and more beautiful story. This is what it means for us to no longer be king of our own lives. This is what it means for us to no longer idolize family. We have intentionally chosen to sacrifice some of our preferences and comforts in order to serve others. So no we don’t get to sacrifice our kids but we are as a family called to model and practice sacrificial living.

Honestly I am not sure how else I raise kids to be live sacrificially, generously or intentionally except by living, sacrificially, generously and intentionally myself. How else do I show them the character of the King who gave up all the glory of Heaven to serve and redeem us? How else do I teach my kids that Jesus came to rescue us and liberate us from our own selfish desires except by daily choosing to put to death my own desires for comfort, security and playing it safe? How else do I teach my kids that we find life when we give it away in service to the weak, the poor, the lost and the broken except by doing just this? How else do they fall in love with the beauty, grace and passion of God’s mission except by tasting it and living it?

We spend our whole lives protecting our kids, serving them, providing for their needs and their desires. Keeping them safe, comfortable and happy. And then we wonder why they grow up to be exactly what we trained them to be.

And they walk away from a Jesus who does not serve them…

Or they apathetically warm a church building designed to serve them…

And their children…

And the world dies a little bit more each day.

Photo Credit: rejik via Photopin

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When our heroes have become too small

Every culture, organisation and church has a prevailing myth that tells the story of who we are and what we value.  And every myth is held up and carried along by its heroes.  These are the human vessels that carry our ideals, our dreams, our aspirations.  These are the men and women who put flesh onto our values.  They are the ones who have succeeded in living the ideals and the dreams we hold to in some significant way.

What is the prevailing myth in your church?  Who are the prevailing heroes in your church? Meditate on this for a while.  The question is not what should be the prevailing myth in your church or who should be the heroes in your church.  The question is; what IS the myth and who ARE the heroes?

We say mission drives our church but yet we spend most of our energy and time on maintaining our existing structures and programmes.  We say we want to see our community reached for Christ but yet we employ numerous staff members whose primary responsibility is to care for us and our needs through teaching, youth work or kids programmes.  We say we serve Jesus and not money and yet we create an elaborate system of church which requires a large amount of money to keep it going.  We create a system that actually hinders us from mission rather than propels us forward into mission.  We speak about what we think ought to be the prevailing myth but yet so often our lives are driven by a darker, less obvious shadow myth.

Who are the heroes in our church communities?  The dashing youth leader?  The talented musician?  The eloquent preacher?  The brilliant exegete? The successful business man? Any defining myth we create is carried forward by its heroes.  If you truly want to know what the defining myth of your community is then ask yourself who are your heroes?

The bible teacher as hero betrays the myth that knowledge about God is our functional salvation story.  Bible college is seen as the ultimate experience for young Christians.   The worship leader as hero betrays the myth that the high that shared experiences bring is our functional Saviour.  The successful business man as hero betrays the myth that we will find happiness or significance through money and success.  The family man or stay at home mom or home-school parent as hero betrays the myth that family is the most important thing in the world.  All these heroes and myths contains some truth but as is the case with all great lies, the object of truth has been stretched to breaking point, beyond it’s ability to hold the disproportionate value we have placed upon it.

What if the myth that defined our church really was the gospel.  The gospel of Him who left all the security, the pleasure and the comfort of heaven to lay down His rights, his preferences, His desires in order to serve us.  To become one of us.  To die for us.  What if the myth that defined our values, dreams and aspirations was this gospel story?  What if our goal was sacrifice and not comfort?  Risk and not security? Service and not pleasure?

What if our lives were defined not by our rights or our pleasures but instead were marked as those who joined their story with the great Story, who laid down their lives for the True Myth, who become heroes in the Ultimate Adventure and who risked it all for a share in the Kingdom of our Great King.  What if we really were known as the friend of sinners, the defender of the vulnerable, the light in the darkness, the peacemakers, the kind and the just?

What if we really did believe that a man’s life did not consist in the abundance of his possessions?  What if we really did believe that it is more blessed to give than to receive?  What if we really did believe that our Father in heaven will clothe and feed us as he does the flowers of the field and the birds of the air?  What if we really did believe that our God is a good God and that his Kingdom is better than all the pleasures and joys the kingdom of this world has to offer? What if we really did believe that the gospel is true?

I am not reaching for some utopian ideal of church.  I know that anything we touch this side of Jesus’ return will be marked by our brokenness and sin.  What we need though is honesty, an honesty robust enough to admit that our defining myths are too small.  We have shrunk the kingdom vision into easily containable chunks that we can use to control our lives.  Our heroes have become too small and our dreams are too reasonable.

We have shrunk the Kingdom to a coke lite, kid friendly version of the world, without the sex, drugs and swearing.  We need an honesty that leads us not to self-inflicted lynchings of guilt but an honesty that admits that we have been living for the wrong myth and inspired by the wrong heroes.  Our myth is sadly most often the coke-lite version of the world, without the sex, drugs and swearing.

We need an honesty that inspires us to join our story with the Great Story, to give up our small ambitions and our small dreams.  We need heroes that inspire us not to greater church attendance but who lead us to far wilder, less safe and more beautiful places where only our faith and our hope in the Great King can ever hope to sustain us.  For it there that we will win glory for His Name and find the life we so desperately crave.  “ For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.” (Mark 8:35)

When discipling your kids backfires

It was one of those terrible fights, that starts about nothing and very quickly gets very ugly.   I know that you know nothing about those but let’s just pretend anyway.  It started just as we both got in the car to make the less than ten minute journey to drop the boys off at school and in that short time we were shouting, gesticulating and finally steaming in silence.  Not pretty.  Not our finest moment.

When we reached the school, I sprung up, wrenched the door open, and offered a terse “Come boys”

But my four-year old had other ideas, he got out of his car seat, put his head between the seats, looked at my wife and rebuking us said “You guys mustn’t fight.” Then he turned his head to look at me and said, “You must love Jesus.”

To my shame it was not well received at that moment.  I mean, who honestly wants to hear the truth you taught your four-year old when you really want to be angry!

Later we apologised to the boys for not trusting Jesus or listening to them when they reminded us.  It was a simple but deeply profound conversation.

On a similar vein: Is Following Jesus Really That Simple?

Parenting: Relax, Nobody Else Knows What They Are Doing Either

Today we celebrated “Nathan Day”!  Four years ago today we adopted our “first-youngest” child, Nathan.  “First youngest” is the way I like to confuse people, in the same way that Domingo is my “second oldest” child.  Nathan was adopted four years ago when he was only two months old, hence he is the first.  We knew at the time that he had a biological brother, who we later adopted just before his third birthday.  Hence Nathan became our “first youngest” child.  Apparently the done thing in adoption is to adopt in birth order.  We found this out about a year after we adopted Domingo.  Sometimes it feels like we always have to do thing differently in our family… even without trying…

We asked Nathan what we wanted to do for “Nathan Day”.  The predictably boy answer was of course, to go see scorpions and spiders! So we did! Throw in a few monkeys, iguanas, snakes, birds, butterflies, and a blue duiker for good measure and a good time was had by all.

Four years into parenting and two boys later (now 5 and 4 years old) what pearls of wisdom do I have to share.  Honestly not many, but here are a couple of thoughts:

1) Relax – nobody else knows what they are doing either.  Not matter what they say.

2) Have fun.  Nothing means more to my boys than taking time to play fight, chase them around the house, play cricket or read a book.

3) Eat supper together.  Around the table if you can.  This is where we hear the stories of the day.  Or the ones Nathan makes up out of his head.  We can pray together.  Laugh together.  Talk about the day together.  Share knowledge. Prepare the boys for upcoming events.  And because our table at least 2-3 times a week includes others we are able to model gospel inclusivity, hospitality, fellowship and mission to the boys in a very practical and simple way.

4) Include them in your life and in your ministry.  Take them visiting.  Tell them why all these people are in your house.  When you pray with them pray for those who do and don’t love Jesus.  Domingo regularly prays, on his initiative, for people he knows who don’t love Jesus.  We often eat together before we do a study or have a discussion and mostly the boys are a part of that eating together.

5) Keep it simple.  Your kids don’t need all the gadgets, all the newest experiences or to go to all the “must do” places around the city.  What they need is you.  They need your time.  And they need time to dream, make up games, let their imaginations run wild, to play, to draw and to explore.  And they need relationships with others outside your family.  Our boys are blessed to have a relational circle which includes many adults not related to us who love them and they love, both Christian and non-Christians.

6) Resist the urge to make them into cold-hearted legalists.  Don’t simply get them to do the right thing.  That can be easier and more immediately rewarding for a tired parent.  But don’t give in to the temptation.  Work hard to gospel their hearts.  Instead of simply teaching them, for example, to share (result) teach them why we share.  We share because we have a good and kind king who laid down his life to give us life.  Teach them to do things with a “happy heart” – we are not merely after obedience but joy in obedience.  Because it is good to follow Jesus.  He is a good King and his way are good.  His ways bring joy and freedom.

Is Following Jesus Really That Simple?

I was reminded last night why Jesus describes genuine faith as a “childlike faith.”

Praying with my sons before bed, we thanked God for the rain and then prayed for those who did not have any homes.

Domingo (4) looked up at me and said “Daddy those people who don’t have any houses will get very wet.”

Me: “Yes, my boy that is why we pray that God will look after them,” (and my guilty conscience & good theology added) “Hopefully God will show us how we can help them best.”

Domingo: “Daddy we must share our houses with those people who haven’t got no house.”

So simple.

But it’s just not that simple is it?

Or is it…

“Jesus said, ‘When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbours; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”